Saturday, May 07, 2005
The Gay Blog
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller
Well, it looks like my 15 minutes of internet fame has passed. After going virtually unnoticed for several months, this blog finally started getting some hits last December. However, the several hundred hits this blog used to get daily in February and March has settled down sixfold to 30 or so per day. The top referrals to this blog are now no longer Google image searches for pictures of various musicians (Ray Charles, Courtney Love, Jimi Hendrix and Nora Jones), but:
1. The Executioners Thong,
2. Notes in Samsara,
3. Zen Filter,
4. The Cave, and
5. The Gay News Blog.
The first three are just about tied in the number of hits, and the order changes from day to day, but the last one, the Gay News Blog, came as something of a surprise to me. Unlike the first four blogs, there is very little Buddhist content on the GNB (actually, none that I could find), and up until this entry, very little discussion of gay issues in Water Dissolves Water.
Over on the sidebar there, I offer links to blogs that have links to me. At first, I was reluctant to put up a link to the GNB, not out of any objections to the long-running blog itself, but out of concern that others might mistake my sexual orientation if I did.
Throughout my life, I have often been accused of being gay. My own father still has doubts about me, probably tracing back to my failure to take an interest in Little League baseball when I was young and extending to my current bachelor status. My sister once called me to say that she figured the reason that I hadn't come home for Christmas for several years in a row wasn't because I was having too much fun on my time off away from the family, but was that I had come out, and was now such a flamer that I wasn't even capable of butching it up for the holidays and trying to pass for straight, and was embarrassed that I would be outed (the real reason probably had more to do with not having to answer to ridiculous accusations like that more than anything else).
I once learned that the idle minds of several gossips in an office in which I used to work had been keeping a list of evidence that they considered to lead to the conclusion that I was gay. First of all, they pointed out, I had never been married. Well, true enough, but I could argue that was because I liked women too much, or liked too many women, to settle down with just one. (It should be noted, though, that I once heard that some statisticians had estimated the gay populations of various cities by counting the number of unmarried men over 35 from the census data. So to my amusement, I was included in their estimate of the gay population of Atlanta.)
Their second reason was because one year I had "chosen to take my vacation with another man." Again, guilty as charged, although I would not have phrased it that way. A friend of mine, the married father of two boys, and I went on an ultra-macho backpacking trip in Alaska, and although I did use some of my vacation time for the trip, their turn of phrase made it sound like we were off on a cruise to Aruba, sipping fruity tropical drinks side by side in chaise lounges.
Finally, they pointed out that I chose to wear my hair short. I have no idea what that had to do with anything, but I told them that I didn't get my buzz cut because I was gay, but because my live-in male companion liked it that way.
Of course, on the other hand, L. thought that I was a homophobe, one of those false and unflattering perceptions she tended to assign to me, largely based on a one-time reluctance to go see a gay-themed movie at a local art house. So, I always figured that these conflicting opinions sort of canceled each other out, and didn't pay too much mind to either one. As the Buddha once said, if someone spreads a false rumor about you and you become upset by it, it's as if they shot at you with an arrow and missed, but you picked up the arrow and started stabbing yourself with it.
All of this, of course, leads to questions about the role of homosexuality in Zen, and Zen attitudes toward homosexuality. A few weeks back, I talked about Kukai and early ecological thought in Zen Buddhism. However, it should also be noted that according to Wikipedia, "Over the centuries, Kukai became the object of various folk traditions. One of them credits him with the introduction of the homosexual tradition to Japan. In the 1100's, we begin to see mentions of Kukai as the father of nanshoku, or male love, which he is alleged to have brought from China together with the dharma. Throughout the medieval and pre-modern period his monastery, Mount Koya, was a byword for the practice of male love . . . This tradition may have been inspired by the countless erotic relationships between monks and their acolytes, known as chigo, and recorded as love stories known as chigo monogatari."
Romantic homosexual love and desire has been recorded from ancient times in Japan; indeed, love between men was viewed as the purest form of love. While homosexuality has never been viewed as a sin in Japanese society and religion, and there is no specific legal prohibition, western religious thought and a desire to appear "civilized" have historically influenced the way that homosexuality has been viewed both by the modern Japanese government and the population at large.
In ancient China, none of the major religions condemned homosexuality as a "sin." Confucianists believed that a man should behave according to somewhat traditional male gender roles, and a woman likewise. To beget children (especially sons) was a very important duty for a man in traditional Chinese society. So a man who only had male lovers was not considered very dutiful. Also, transvestitism was considered to be contrary to Confucian natural law. There were some historical accounts of emperors who used to dress themselves in women's clothes, and this was always interpreted as an ill omen. On the other hand, the list of sinful deeds in Confucianism does not include homosexuality. As long as a man does his duty and sires children, if it was his private thing to have other male lovers, than so be it.
Taoism emphasized maintaining the balance between Yin and Yang. Although each man was regarded as Yang (masculine), every man also has some Yin (feminine) in him too, according to the natural balance of Yin and Yang. So the presence of some feminine behavior was not viewed as unnatural for men at all. In this view, homosexuals can even be regarded as something very natural, in keeping with the natural balance of things.
In Buddhism, all desire was considered to be an impediment to enlightenment, including sexual desire (regardless of being homosexual or heterosexual). Therefore, much of traditional Buddhism has been practiced in celibate monasteries. However, in ancient Japan, neither native Shinto beliefs nor the Japanese interpretation of the Chinese religions contained any specific prohibitions against homosexual activity. In fact, Buddhist monasteries appear to have been early centers of homosexuality in Japan. Although Kukai was said to have introduced nanshoku into Japan after returning from Tang China in the 9th century, he does not discuss this theme in any of his major works. It should also be noted that any sexual activity was expressly forbidden by the Vinaya, or code of monastic discipline for Buddhist monks, and Kukai was an enthusiastic upholder of the Vinaya.
However, enough monks seem to have felt their vows of chastity did not apply to same-sex relations that the chigo monogatari stories of affairs between monks and young acolytes were quite popular, and such affairs were lightly joked about, at least when the passions did not rise to the level of violence, which was not uncommon. Jesuits missionaries were reportedly aghast at the "sodomy" that they encountered among the Buddhist clergy.
From religious circles, same-sex love spread to the warrior class, where it was customary for a young samurai to apprentice to an older and more experienced man, whose lover he would then become for a number of years. The practice was known as shudo, the way of the young, and was held in high esteem by the warrior class.
As Japanese society became pacified, the middle classes adopted many of the practices of the warrior class, in the case of shudo giving it a more mercantile interpretation. In the Edo period (1600-1868), kabuki actors often doubled as sex workers off stage. This was especially true of those kabuki actors who played female roles. Young kabuki actors, known as kagema, became the rage - they were celebrated in much the same way as modern media stars are today, and were much sought after by wealthy patrons, who would vie with each other to purchase their favors. Kagema often worked at specialized brothels called kagema tea houses.
Anyway, having said all that, I welcome readers of the Gay News Blog to Water Dissolves Water and gladly put the link in my sidebar. If the small minded want to draw conclusions about me by who links to me and to whom I link, that's their business, not mine. The buddhadharma has nothing to do with sexuality or celibacy, with homosexuality or heterosexuality, but everything to do with tolerance, compassion and wisdom.